COLUMBIA, SC — Now you can grab a meal at Bonefish Grill, catch a movie at Columbiana Grande theaters and buy a health insurance policy from BlueCross BlueShield of S.C. without having to return to your car.
The insurance giant quietly opened its third retail store in the state on Friday in the Columbiana Station shopping center in the Harbison area. The grand opening of the 2,293-square-foot South Carolina BLUE Retail Center at 1260 Bower Parkway is scheduled for Saturday.
BlueCross for years has relied on its agents to make contact with customers, or for customers to find BlueCross agents online or by phone. But with thousands of new customers expected because of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance mandate, BlueCross is ramping up its retail profile.
“There are some people who will go online and buy, and there are some who are comfortable talking to (a sales agent) on the phone,” said Irving Albrecht, vice president for marketing and retail sales for BlueCross BlueShield of S.C. “But there are some people who are just more comfortable face-to-face.”
SC BLUE retail stores already have opened in Charleston and Greenville. The Columbia effort lagged as company executives searched for the right location. The Bower Parkway corridor apparently is a hot one for insurance sales. Humana and Insurance Office of America have offices nearby.
The BLUE store is designed for sales, customer support and community gatherings. The community room can be set up for personal finance seminars, or the tables can be folded up and the space converted to a Zumba classroom. Healthy cooking classes have been popular at the Greenville store.
And if you need to drag the kids along while insurance shopping, there’s a space for them to play Wii games within sight of the sales offices.
Current insurance policyholders can get service questions answered, or the staff – all five members are licensed agents – can guide new customers through the process of buying insurance.
The agents will be selling policies for the two local Blues – BlueCross BlueShield of S.C. and BlueChoice Health Plan of S.C. For people shopping on the new federal Health Insurance Marketplace, those are two of the four companies available in the state, along with Consumers’ Choice Health Plan and CoventryOne.
The BLUE store will be open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays. The grand opening is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
To avoid waits, it’s best to set up an appointment at www.scblueretailscenters.com or (803) 264-9000, but walk-ins are welcome. In fact, the staff sold its first policy to a walk-in on Friday before all of the equipment was online.